Lone Survivor


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Lone Survivor
"One of the dullest films about war ever made."

Approaching a true story in which several men died is always difficult, so it's a shame to have to report that this is one of the dullest films about war ever made. Yes, the story it is telling is a familiar one, in the context of war itself and of Hollywood's take on it, so there would inevitably be challenges in shaping the script, but originality isn't something most people look for in a war film - what matters is action and drama. Good performances can also help. This film has a little of the latter but only from actors in minor roles.

It follows a SEAL team in war-torn Afghanistan, sent out to assassinate Taliban leader Ahman Shahd. When their plan is interrupted by the arrival of a small group of goatherds, they are faced with a difficult decision. What happens next sees them holed up in the mountains, under relentless fire, desperately trying to arrange rescue. But rescue might not happen in the way they expect.

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The film is to be commended for showing something of the complicated nature of internal Afghan strife - although it merely skirts the subject, this is more than we get from most US films about the war. It also features an impressive supporting performance from young Rohan Chand, who does a lot with few words and delivers one of the film's few moments of comedy. It could have done with more of these, as the tone is otherwise flat throughout. This might reflect the flattened affect that many people experience in traumatic situations but it's no way to engage an audience.

To make this worse, the film spends far too long setting up, all without giving us any insights into the individual characters of the soldiers. The shootouts, where we might expect the film to pick up pace, are unimaginatively directed - realistic, perhaps, but too linear and with not enough movement or change. Where they break from realism is in having the Americans sustain numerous wounds and keep going, whilst a single shot to the shoulder seems sufficient to put an Afghan out of action. The effects here are adequate but nothing to write home about. The characters are no more distinguishable in combat than during the earlier dramatic scenes.

The film gets stronger in its final third, when Afghan characters get more to do, but throughout there's a sense that something is missing, like a meal prepared without salt. Director Berg demonstrates a remarkable ability to squander moments of tension. There's also an awkward moment at the very end, when we see pictures of the real soldiers on whom this story is based, prompting the question, why are they all played by white people? Still, the politics of casting is the least of this film's problems. The biggest questions is, why did nobody at the studio realise what was going wrong and step in to rescue this project?

Reviewed on: 07 Dec 2013
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A dramatisation of a failed US assassination mission in Afghanistan.
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Read more Lone Survivor reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ***

Director: Peter Berg

Writer: Peter Berg

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Alexander Ludwig, Yousuf Azami, Ali Suliman, Rohan Chand

Year: 2013

Runtime: 121 minutes

Country: US


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